Canadian rapper Snow scored one of 1993’s biggest hits with his single “The Informer.” His patois-laced song soared up the pop and R&B charts, even though only hardcore reggae listeners could understand it without a lyric translation sheet. The album 12 Inches of Snow also did well, with the second single, “Girl I’ve Been Hurt,” becoming a hit
Snow was born and raised in the North York district of Toronto, Ontario. For much of his childhood, he lived in the Allenbury Gardens public housing project, and at the age of 17, moved to Ajax, Ontario. Growing up in a diverse neighbourhood, O’Brien blended dancehall and reggae with rock and popular music to create his own unique style of music. In 1988, Jamaican-born DJ Marvin Prince witnessed O’Brien deejaying at a party and the two quickly became friends. For the next few years, they practiced in Prince’s basement with Snow providing vocals and Prince playing records. While on a trip to New York City, Prince mentioned Snow to rap star M.C. Shan. Shan then invited Snow to New York and introduced him to music producers, David Eng and Steve Salem. Snow eventually signed a contract to record on their Motorjam/Elektra record label and in 1993 released his debut album 12 Inches of Snow.
While Snow served prison time for an attempted murder charge, M.C. Shan, David Eng, Steve Salem, and Marvin Prince promoted the recordings. Upon his release from prison, Snow’s first single “Informer”, written by Snow, M.C. Shan, and Edmond Leary, became a chart-topping hit. The album sold over 8 million records worldwide, with the “Informer” single remaining number 1 on the American Billboard charts for seven consecutive weeks. “Informer” has been recorded twice in the Guinness Book of World Records as the best selling reggae single in US history, as well as the highest charting reggae single in history. A second single, “Girl I’ve Been Hurt”, reached Number 19 on the Hot 100. In Japan, Snow received the Recording Industry Association of Japan’s 1994 Gold Disc Award for Best New Artist.
As the government of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau continued reforming immigration policies, instituting social reforms, and promoting multiculturalism in Canada, a larger influx of Jamaicans immigrated into the Greater Toronto Area. One of Snow’s neighbouring Jamaican families, the Browns, first introduced the teenager to reggae and began calling him “Snow” and “Snow White”. With the help of his neighbours, Snow began borrowing and ordering reggae dub tapes to perform over. After befriending Marvin Prince, Prince began referring to Snow with a phrased backronym meaning “Superb Notorious Outrageous Whiteboy”. Snow never claimed the title himself and simply continued to perform with the stage name of Snow.
In the mid-1990s, Snow’s executive producer David Kenneth Eng broadened his artistic horizons and deepened his personal and spiritual roots by establishing a base in Asia. Eng included Snow as part of this expansion, leading the Canadian artist into a new market. As a follow-up to 12 Inches of Snow, Snow recorded his second album Murder Love in Jamaica, Canada, and New York. While not a commercial success in North America, the album featured Snow performing with reggae and dancehall legends Ninjaman, Junior Reid, Half Pint, Buju Banton, Beenie Man, Dave Kelly, and Sly and Robbie. The “Anything for You” remix became a club favorite and, according to Billboard’s Elena Oumano, made Snow a figure of respect on the Jamaican music scene. Indeed, “Anything For You” became the top-selling single in Jamaica in 1995 and “Si Wi Dem Nuh Know We” also reached the number one slot in Jamaica. Murder Love proved to be a popular album in Asia, with the single “Sexy Girl” remaining on Japan’s Top Singles chart for 16 weeks, ultimately reaching number one. The success of Murder Love allowed Snow to tour Asia and collaborate with Thai rap artist Joey Boy. In 1996, Eng created Dimsum Entertainment, producing Joey Boy’s album Fun, Fun, Fun. Ultimately, Snow performed on the chart-topping Thai single “Fun, Fun, Fun” and appeared in the music video. Joey Boy returned the favor by appearing on Snow’s Thai single “Me and Joey”. In 2008, Snow also featured Joey Boy on the track “Catch a Kick”.
That same year, Snow collaborated with Cyndi Lauper on Junior Vasquez’s Homegrown and Sly and Robbie’s Pop Goes the Dancehall remix of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”, retitled “Hey Now (Girls Just Want to Have Fun)”. By the end of 1996, Murder Love’s “Si We Dem Nuh Know We” received a Juno nomination for Best Reggae Recording. Overall, the album produced three music videos: “Anything For You”, “Anything For You (All Star Cast Remix)”, and “Sexy Girl”. In the film Klash, Snow appears performing “Rivertown”.
Snow followed up Murder Love with an album named after his daughter, Justuss. The first single “Boom Boom Boogie” took Asia by storm, achieving gold status with the music video appearing on MTV Japan five to six times a day. Released in the United States and Canada in 1997, the single “If This World Were Mine” failed to chart but the video regularly appeared on The Box. The album reached number 12 on the U.S. reggae charts and in 1998 was nominated for Best Reggae album at the Juno Awards in Vancouver, British Columbia. In late 1997, Snow released a “Greatest Hits” compilation, called The Greatest Hits of Snow.
In 1999, Snow reunited with M.C. Shan, producing the album Cooler Conditions in Japan. The only single, “The Plumb Song”, spent eight weeks on the Japan Singles chart, peaking at number 27. It was recorded at Metalworks Studios in Mississauga, Ontario. In 2000, Snow released Mind on the Moon. The single “Everybody Wants to Be Like You” landed Snow back on the Canadian Singles chart and earned him three Juno nominations. In 2002, Snow worked with Shaggy and Blu Cantrell’s producer to record Two Hands Clapping. “Legal”, the first single, reached number 13 on the Canadian Singles Chart.
In summer 2014 while in Miami, Florida, Snow signed with Bugatti Music Entertainment and teamed up with Grammy-winning producers Cool and Dre, Kent Jones and Scott Storch and began recording again. On October 2, 2014, Snow’s new single “Shame” was released, featuring Mykal Rose (Black Uhuru). On October 11, 2014, Snow announced that all proceeds from “Shame” will be donated to the fight against cancer.